In 2013, award-winning barber Miguel Gutierrez set off on an epic round-the-world adventure to learn more about his trade. From Turkey to Singapore, India and beyond, Miguel, aka the Nomad Barber, has been using his expertise to explore cultures and customs through barbershops across the globe.
But despite having visited 20 countries in just 10 months the journey has only just begun for this unique traveller. We caught up with Miguel to talk beards, bizarre barbering traditions and why the best advice is just to travel.
Where was your last trip?
I went to Istanbul for a holiday, and then Dubai. I did a few trips around the UK – to Edinburgh, Belfast and Liverpool, where I’m from – after my big trip.
Where is your next trip?
I’m hoping to do Italy, Morocco, Taiwan, Japan, China and South Korea. That’s basically to continue the series documenting barbering around the world.
What is your first travel-related memory?
I did a lot of trips to Wales when I was a kid because that was the closest thing to Liverpool. But my first trip abroad was to Chile when I was 11 because that's where my dad's from, which was incredible. I think I fell in love with travel from the start – just being on the road, seeing new places.
Aisle or window seat?
Window seat if it’s long haul, because if I can’t lean on something I can’t sleep. But if it’s short haul, I go for the aisle so I can get out quicker.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I’m a bit OCD. I like to plan everything. I always over pack and I always get too much first aid stuff.
What is your most unforgettable travel memory?
We pulled up to Kathmandu for one night's stay – we were going to fly to Hong Kong the next day – and stupidly we followed this guy who said his friend had a guest house nearby. When we woke up our laptop, which had all of our video stuff on it, had gone. Initially, we thought the hostel was in on it, but it came to light they weren't and to compensate they paid for us to stay in Nepal for another week – paid for our flights, our food, everything. And we ended up becoming friends with this local extortion racket. They were the local criminals and they ended up taking us out drinking.
Favourite city or country or region?
India was incredible. It’s a place where you get a real sense of adventure. You can get lost quite easily, you can have the most random conversations with locals on the trains. If you’re taking photos you can literally stand in any street, turn 360 degrees and you’d get different stuff constantly. It’s just insane.
What was your most challenging experience on the road?
The whole trip was a challenge really, because not only were we travelling we were also filming, and when we weren’t filming we were researching, and when we weren’t researching we were editing video. We did 20 countries in just over 10 months. To keep up with that was really tough.
What is your favourite barbering custom you discovered on your travels?
The head massages and neck massages in Turkey and India are incredible. Most of the barbers told us they started doing massages to get more tips because the services are quite cheap there.
The most outlandish custom we came across was ear digging. In South Asia, they do a lot of ear cleaning in the barber shop. So they put a headlamp on your forehead and look inside your ear and scrape all the wax out. It sounds disgusting but it’s actually really relaxing, in a bizarre way.
People say that football is a universal language, do you think that the same could be said of barbering?
Apart from decor and language, barbershops remain quite true to themselves. It's probably one of the oldest trades in the worlds. In most countries you go in, you have a chat to your barber, you talk about local issues like community, politics, football.
Do you think there are extra benefits to working while you travel?
Yes. We got to live our lives through the barbershops; so we met the locals, got to know them as people, got to know their culture from their perspective.
Beards are all the rage these days, but are they actually practical for travelling?
I’d say beards are definitely practical for travel. Saves you shaving, saves you buying razors. If you’re going to grow a beard at any point it’s got to be when you’re travelling.
What would be your ultimate travel hairstyle?
I try to keep my hair fairly short, just because it’s just easier to manage – so just anything low maintenance basically.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
Mostly I collected business cards from the barber shops. They’re probably the best souvenirs because they’re personal, barbers gave them to me to remember them by.
The worst? Bed bugs.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
The best advice was from someone who told me to travel in the first place. When I was 18 and working in a barber shop in Liverpool, I didn’t really think about leaving. Someone told me that they went to Australia for a year and when I asked how they did it, they said they just booked the flight and paid for the visa. I couldn’t believe it was that easy.
What’s your biggest travel fail?
We were flying from New York to Peru; we stopped in Fort Lauderdale and we looked at the flight board and it said 18:25. So we thought the flight was leaving at twenty-five past six – it was about half-past four then so we decided to pop outside for a bit, have a little walk around. But when we came back in the departure board said quarter past five and we realised 1825 was the flight number and we had missed our flight.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
I think Machu Picchu is up there. It’s so tough, I’ve opened my eyes so much to travel now, that to have one dream is so restrictive. I wouldn’t mind doing the States, doing the whole route 66 thing in a camper van and ending up at Burning Man festival.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Plan your route and prepare. Don’t just go to the touristy places, do a bit of research yourself and see what you want to see. And if you can, stay in one place for a little while before moving on – you get to know a place a little bit better.
Follow the Nomad Barber's adventures via his web series (youtube.com/thenomadbarber) or book yourself a shave at his Brick Lane barbershop (thenomadbarber.com).